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Thread: Resource: Figurative Devices

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  1. #1
    Has a few recurring issues kborsden's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
    Where opinions have a distinct aroma.

    Resource: Figurative Devices

    Figurative Devices

    I thought I'd add this here, mainly because I often see such devices being criticised. While there is a question of balance in the sense that you can swiftly go OTT -- they do have their place.

    There are 3 families of such devices:

    Figures of Speech/turns of phrase

    Simile: an explicit comparison or analogy based on concrete elements of similarity (makes use of ‘like’ or ‘as’): "Her kisses are as soft as cushions."; “She smells like roses”.

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    Metaphor: a statement where one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest analogy by implicit comparison: "Her lips are soft cushions."; “She has the scent of roses.”

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    Synecdoche: a substitution of a whole word for a part of a whole reference or vice versa: "Five blooms" for "five flowers"; "the scented year" for “the spring season”.

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    Metonym(y): stating a reference as its direct attribute or whatever it is associated with most: "crown" for “king/queen”.

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    Periphrasis: using a concrete descriptive phrase consisting of adjectives and abstract nouns in the place of a direct reference or precise word/term, e.g. "shards of crystalline futures embedded in the sea of past lifetimes lost to light" instead of the starry night sky; also known informally as extended abstraction and its use requires a method of 'anchoring/grounding' by a direct reference or recurrent use of one or more of the abstract nouns in more direct conjunction to the concept


    Shards of crystalline futures
    embedded in the sea of past lifetimes
    lost to light, twinkle within
    the heavenly haze

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    Personification: offering the descriptive attributes of animation to inanimate reference; treating a thing/animal/object or abstraction as if it were a person, i.e. “the moon smiles over the sleeping world”.

    Oxymoron: deliberate contradiction in terms: "staring blindly"; "bittersweet".

    Simile vs. Metaphor

    There is an understanding in poetry that simile is one of the weakest figurative and creative devices because it leans heavily on the comparative nature of analogy instead of the abstract. Metaphor works because the human mind has a great capacity for comprehending abstract concepts – think how time and money, both incredibly abstract concepts are ingrained into our lives – metaphoric language is considered much stronger because of this.

    Metaphor is abstract, but uses common terminology and the commonality of general reference and understanding (ergo, anchored/grounded) to express things such as sentiment by statement that could otherwise not be expressed efficiently in concrete terms. Simile takes the opposite approach through comparison and sets out a concrete nature of such ideas – therein lies the weakness. In other words, when using simile, we set out a definition or delineation of an element by comparing the figurative aspect of it to something factual, tangible or concrete (also vice-versa) and this is flawed when we speak of such things as the mind, soul, emotion, philosophy, faith etc; metaphor uses abstract statement defined to the necessary degree by denoted common reference to state something as being something, rather than being ‘like’ something.

    Most similes are easily replaced by metaphoric analogy and are as a first port of call thus redundant. It's always a good idea to use the greater powered method unless weakness is your intended destination, or the basis of the simile is unavoidable and/or purposeful in a way suited to the concept. Then there is also the imagists’ manifesto that nothing of import – nothing worth writing about – can actually be like anything else.

    However, there are times when simile is the better suited of the choices available – if I say 'he was a chicken when he bobbed his head' it sounds awkward, even when taking a greater leap into metaphoric language, ‘bobbing from side to side he was a chicken’, it feels reaching and simply odd. If stated 'he bobbed his head like a chicken' the result is preferable and immediate. The reason here is that the action is direct in imitation or similarity to the comparison, ergo, the concrete aspect of his movement was exact or as close as to the compared reference (or to put it another way, if the concrete aspect outweighs the figurative); when there is no room for abstraction, in such cases concrete reference is stronger and abstraction is weak.


    Parallelism {follow the linked content for extensive explanation}

    Onomatopoeia: when a word sounds like what it means/is: snap, crackle, pop, drip, bang, clap.

    Pun: deliberate substitution of words based on their sound (usually for comic effect, but not always or exclusively): “I look out through the window, pane(pain) of my memories”.

    Malapropism: unconscious pun; the misuse or the habitual misuse of similar sounding words, especially for comedic effect: "odious" for "odorous."

    Wordplay: a serious pun, as when a dying man says "tomorrow you shall find me a grave man."

    Paronomasia: partial wordplay based on similar sounds rather than identical sounds: cull and cool.

    Ideophone: a vivid representation of an idea in sound; the use of a word or term which, similarly to onomatopoeia describes itself; can be a verb, predicate, qualificative or adverb in respect to manner, colour, sound, smell, action, state or intensity: (from Ghostbusters) "He slimed me."

    Neologism: the use of 'invented' words for purposes similar to ideophones; often a compound word 'crafted' from noun+adjective, but could also be the result of acronyms or abbreviations: "brillig" -- or more contemporary, "rofl", "he rofled at her misfortune."


    Repetition: the reuse of a single line or word; can be divided into 3 sub-groups:

    • restatement: the reuse of the same concept only reformulated
    • refrain: the exact same words in the exact same order reused structurally for effect or form.
    • straight repetition: a specific order of words reused.

    Anaphora: repetition of a word or words beginning a series of parallel syntactical units: if each verse/line of a poem begins with the same word.

    Double Epithet: two words with a closely similar meaning joined by a conjunction; one of Shakespeare’s favourite and most used devices, "extravagant and erring"; commonly presented as a Latin-rooted word and an Anglo-Saxon one: "foul and pestilent."

    Hendiadys: two words joined by a conjunction where one serves as a modifier for the other: "this policy and reference of age" to mean "this policy in reference to age".

    Anastrophe: rearrangement of normal word order for the sake of emphasis, aka inversion/hyperbaton; correct anastrophe: “The God of those he knew is He”, forced/awkward anastrophe (though common speak for certain British dialects, e.g. Welsh, Yorkshire): "The God of those he knew, He is"

    Apostrophe: a specific variation of personification in which abstract concepts such as death, absence, silence, money etc are addressed as if present: “Father Time, why do you ignore me?”

    Hyperbole: an exaggerated statement made for effect: “I’ve waited an age for this bus”.

    Parabole: the dual use of hyperbole in 2 extreme directions (think 'exaggerated oxymoron') in a single statement for the purpose of analogy. To elucidate "I saw the eternal youth in his ancient eyes" = parabole; "I saw the ancient youth in his eyes" = oxymoron.

    Connotation: making use of subtext and/or pre-existing concepts to suggest what is not directly written or spoken, e.g. the mention of a dove, even if not directly referenced, may indicate an underlying theme of peace; gold can suggest wealth.


    After these basic figurative devices, there is also the conceit to consider.


    A stylistic and extended metaphor that spans across the entirety of a poetic passage, stanza or the body/volume of an entire poem. Usually this is achieved by the use of several figurative devices by way of manipulating common and well known images and ideas against fresh thoughts and directions. There are two main forms of conceit:

    Metaphysical Conceit

    Highly conceptual and stretching the comparative nature of the analogy, this type allows a great deal of space for imagination and emotion above logic and rational thought.


    Her pupils hold deep within them
    the darkest caverns of my love
    and I am drawn near with my torch
    to light and paint their chalk-stone walls

    Petrarchan Conceit

    Exploits a set of images and words particular to the immediate subject or reference in order to outline a conflict between emotion and intelligence by comparison or rhetoric.


    Port Talbot Parkway Obituary

    Sometimes a memory can be etched deep
    into the psyche as old railroad tracks
    that time would rather have covered with weeds
    than allow to lead to the clock turned back
    to when trains ride once more, and tears will run
    in parallel lines across nature's face.
    The flowers laid flat have never belonged,
    save for a moment's grace in such a place
    as by his recalled name—not just in thought
    or rain-soaked newspaper reborn in green,
    the mould on black-and-white memorial grain;
    the uncovered trail, twisted with truth, taught
    in death: he will never turn seventeen,
    nor will I ever be his age again.
    Last edited by kborsden; 07-07-2013 at 05:21 PM.
    Kieran Borsden
    "to be born Welsh, is to be born--not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but with song in your heart, and poetry in your soul"

    -->Read Me

    Got to write an Englyn or 2

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